What do you do?

It is possibly the most commonly asked question in D.C. It is my old standby for starting conversations and keeping them going in social and professional settings. Only once, did someone call me out for asking it: “now that’s an annoying D.C. question.” But last week, at a Hill happy hour that question was taken to a whole new level.

I attended a happy hour with a friend and towards the end of the evening, we decided to say hello to someone we thought was in the same professional circle. The conversation started awkwardly and only got worse. We approached and said, “Hi.” He half-heartedly was asked, as if we were groupies, “What office do you work in?” We responded. His body language immediately changed, but only a little (my friend and I work in notable offices). The next question, “Are you interns?” I responded by laughing out loud and shaking my head, quite flattered that I could still pass for a na├»ve, idealistic intern when I know that I’m becoming a typical jaded, burned-out staffer. He pressed on, “What is your title?” I’ve never been asked that. We told him. He wasn’t impressed. The conversation sort of ended with awkward well-wishes as he turned away. I guess weren’t on “his level.”

First of all, I must admit that I have almost immediately discounted people based on where they work. I’m not proud of it, but some days, I’m so focused on making the “right” professional contact that I will immediately discount the Republicans I meet and even the non-Hill folks. But in reality, everyone you meet is a potential contact to help you gain access and information, not only about your job, but about DC, traveling abroad, rec. sports, an amazing tailor/restaurant, etc.
Also, this encounter reminded me of why I don’t like most guys on the Hill. They are often obnoxious, arrogant climbers who (yes even in the age of Madame Speaker and Madame Secretary) often don’t value women as professional power players. I am not necessarily proud of the professional superiority card I have played at Hill receptions when I’m feeling defensive or even smug. But I never feel the need to be purposefully rude.

My friend and I won’t ever forget our interaction with this guy. It was a good lesson for us both. It doesn’t necessarily matter where you are at any one moment. What matters is where you are going, what you do to get there, and how you treat others along the way.

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